Dispelling Myths About Employee Engagement
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Episode 29 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode 29 − Dispelling Myths About Employee Engagement.
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at businessadvance.com. Now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement, Incorporated. And right across from me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. I am so happy to be here with you again today. If this is your first time listening out there, the purpose of Growth Igniters Radio is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of success. Pam, what’s up for today?
Pam Harper: Dispelling some of the myths about employee engagement, and of course talking about what it really means for employees to be engaged. This is one of the points that we touched on briefly during our conversation called “What You Can Do To Accelerate Major Transformation” in Episode 14, but there’s so much to the issue of employee engagement that it really deserves its own episode. That’s why we invited writer and speaker John Guaspari to be our guest today.
John is the author of seven books, including his latest, Otherwise Engaged, How Leaders Can Get a Firmer Grip on Employee Engagement and Other Key Intangibles. In addition to being a prolific writer, John frequently speaks on issues of employee engagement. You can find out much more about John’s background under the resources section on the Episode 29 page at www.growthignitersradio.com. John, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
John Guaspari: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to have a few minutes to talk with you.
Pam Harper: We’re delighted you could join us. Tell us a bit about how you became so passionate about leadership and why did you write that book, Otherwise Engaged?
John Guaspari: It’s funny. My background is as an engineer, so I never thought I would have spent most of my career in what really are human resource related topics and domains. It began really in the early to mid 1980s when the total quality management movement was a big deal in American business. I was a marketing manager for a company that made test equipment, so the topic of quality and TQM was very near and dear to our hearts. I wanted to learn more about the TQM movement, and in talking to customers and suppliers and even competitors at the time I kept hearing company presidents and vice-presidents of quality asking similar questions. As far as TQM went, they would say, “We know what we need to do from a technical point of view, but how can we get our employees to more fully embrace it? How can we get them to be more enthused about it?”
Although the word “engagement” wasn’t used back then, in retrospect you could see that that’s really what they were talking about. I was intrigued by that question, and I looked into it and I wrote my first book about it back then, and it did well. I started getting calls from people asking if I could help them get their people more engaged. This went on even after the TQM movement had given way to re-engineering and Lean and Six Sigma and so on. Even though the technical domain might have changed a little bit, that same question still abided − “We know what we need to do from a technical point of view, but how can I get my people to embrace it? How can I get my people more deeply engaged?” That’s what I’ve been doing for a little bit more than the last thirty years now.
Scott Harper: We’ve seen it ourselves as well. It seems like people are trying to get folks engaged and involved and onboard. I’ve seen folks try to go about it a lot of different ways, and it seems like not all of them work. We’ve talked a little bit with you about some of the misconceptions and myths about employee engagement. Tell us about that.
John Guaspari: [There are a] lot of the shortfalls in the results that people get when they try and do something about employee engagement; I do think that results from some misunderstanding as to what the topic is really all about. One of the main ones is that the word “engagement” is a pretty common word and usually when we hear it, it connotes something about things connecting in a mechanical way or an interaction of some sort. We say the gears in the transmission engage, or diplomats who are negotiating a treaty will engage in frank and fruitful dialogue and so on.
Those are perfectly good uses of the word, but it’s not the meaning that all of the research that got people so enthused about engagement in the first place was based on. It’s over the last half a dozen years or so that we’ve begun to see more and more articles that talk about the research which demonstrates a very strong correlation between employee engagement and business results, but the definition used in the research is a much more particular one. It has to do with the extent to which people are emotionally and psychologically invested in the job.
While the connection and interaction definition can be ways to create engagement, they aren’t engagement in and of itself. So the trap people fall into, or the myth surrounding it is that people might think we’ve brought people together, therefore we have them engaged.
Pam Harper: In other words, John, we bring them together, we lock them in a room, and they’re staring in each other’s eyes, so that means they’re engaged? Not really, right?
John Guaspari: Right. As a matter of fact, that could be very good for dis-engaging. In fact, one of the other myths I think is about where does engagement occur? People think that engagement occurs in the room itself, that we can see it − if two people are sitting across a table and talking, they are engaged. But if the thoughts that are running through their heads while they’re talking are “when am I going to get out of here? This person doesn’t know what he or she is talking about,” then they’re not really engaged in the sense which we would like. It is something that’s intangible.
I know dealing with intangibles is more uncomfortable than dealing with tangible things, but the fact of the matter is engagement is an intangible, and the sooner we simply accept that, the better off we’ll be.
Scott Harper: Since we don’t come with subtitles to really get what’s going through our heads, we have to be able to figure out where people are and what really matters to them, and try to engage ourselves on that level. Is that what you’re saying, John?
John Guaspari: Yes. Listen to what you just said there, Scott. I think it’s important that we need to understand what matters to the other person, what moves the other person. The focus is on the other person. The minute we shift the focus from what’s on our to do list to the other person, we made an enormous stride toward achieving real engagement, and that’s real key.
Scott Harper: Okay. In our conversation a few episodes ago that Pam alluded to, Pam and I talked about how engagement is so critical to accelerating any initiative, especially in large transformations. But we also talked about commitment as distinctly different than engagement − very much related and interlocking, but different. Do you see that?
John Guaspari: I think that’s exactly right. They are distinct but related things. I think maybe one way to look at it, is all of us know what it’s like to be fully engaged on the job. We might not have thought about it and put a definition on it, but think about a day on your job when you’re working on something that involves just sort of going through some rote repetitive tasks. We all have those kinds of responsibilities. We know they’re important and we do them to the best of our ability, but if that’s all you’re working on on a given day, the day tends to go pretty slowly. The time passes pretty slowly, and by the end of that day you’re pretty dragged down and de-energized.
But if you think conversely − if you’re working on something that really has you jazzed, you look up and all of a sudden it’s 6:00 and you don’t know where the time went. You go home and you have your dinner and you get ready for work the next day and you can’t wait to get back to the job the next day because you’re so jazzed about it. That’s real engagement. That’s what fosters commitment. When you’re working on something that’s important to you and meaningful to you, that’s where the nexus between engagement and commitment comes in.
Pam Harper: Exactly. The real top and bottom line outcomes from true commitment are quite remarkable. It’s something that we’ve seen time and again.
John Guaspari: Sure. Sure. The research is clear. The studies that I alluded to earlier do show a very clear correlation between engagement levels and business results. If people are engaged they’re likely to be more committed, and that correlates strongly with business results. That’s the only reason any of this matters. Sometimes you’ll talk about this sort of thing and people will think that’s just the soft stuff and you’re just trying to be a good guy. No, this matters because it drives the business.
Pam Harper: The soft stuff is the hard stuff in it’s own way. It matters. We’re going to take a quick break right now though. When we come back, we’re going to talk more with John Guaspari about the myths and realities of employee engagement. Stay with us.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with John Guaspari, an expert on employee engagement and a prolific book author, including his most recent book, Otherwise Engaged. John, how can people find out more about you and about your books?
John Guaspari: The books can be found at Amazon.com, and they could go to my website, which is www. johnguaspari.com. You’ll find a tab there about books. You’ll find a tab there that says musings, which is my blog where I every day put shorter takes on this sort of thing that they might find interesting, so the website is probably the best bet.
Pam Harper: Okay. Of course we’ll have on the page for Episode 29, a link to all of that as well.
Let’s continue our conversation and go deeper on the issue of engagement. You have very specific definitions about the intangibles. You were talking about that in the first segment − intangible aspects of engagement that impact top and bottom line results. Let’s discuss them one at a time, starting with “values”.
John Guaspari: For all of these definitions that we’re going to be talking about here, I’m trying to kind of demystify these topics. One of the problems with intangibles is that literally it’s hard to get your hands around them, because you cannot touch them. I try to offer just very straightforward definitions that I think can help ground people in these things.
Scott Harper: Real quick − you try to offer definitions around these intangibles. Why are definitions important? Why bother?
John Guaspari: Good question. You know the old expression, “if you don’t know where you’re going, anywhere will get you there.” If you’ve got ten people in a room, all in theory trying to go off and help achieve higher levels of engagement, but they have ten different definitions in mind, they’re going to go about it in ten different ways. It’s a way to get some consistency and some focus in the effort. At least everybody has the same sense of where it is we’re trying to, at least directionally − of where we’re trying to be going.
Pam Harper: You make a good point on this. In fact, we actually did a study a while back. What we found is that there’s so much difference of opinion about so may words, and the more that you have that clarity, the more people can operate together − as you say, most effectively. Let’s go back. Talk to us about values.
John Guaspari: Values − the simple definition I offer when it comes to a company’s values is “what really matters around here.” That can be read even within that same definition in a couple of different ways, both of which I think are relevant here. One is what really matters around here, as in there are several things that matter but this one matters the most. It’s the things that are the most important.
Another reading of that can be if you say really with a slightly different twist to it, you could say what really matters around here, as in they may be saying X but what really matters is Y. It’s kind of not hidden agendas, but we might have all the right words on the posters, but we all know that something else is what really matters around here. Both of those things are important. It’s worthwhile for people to really stop and think about those.
Scott Harper: So we know what really matters… One of the things that people talk a lot about is respect. You’ve talked about respect quite a bit. Tell us about that.
John Guaspari: I think that’s really the key to the whole thing. The definition I offer for respect is giving due consideration to the other; giving D-U-E consideration to the other. As we said a few minutes ago, step one in achieving engagement is to make sure you’re focused on the other person. Your focus needs to be on the other, giving consideration to the other. This doesn’t mean bend over backwards. It doesn’t mean simply accede to whatever demands the other person makes. It simply says did you stop to consider, did you stop to think about how what you are saying or doing or not saying or not doing was affecting the other person? It’s a more complex workplace nowadays. We’re all connected with everybody else. Anything you do is bound to reflect other people. Did you take the time to consider it?
Finally, the word due, D-U-E − at some point you have to stop and make a decision. That’s where you just look in the mirror and say, “I did stop and think about it. Did I give it sufficient thought?” You’re going to have to make a judgment and say “yeah, I did.” Okay. If you’ve satisfied those conditions, you have been respectful.
Pam Harper: That makes sense. John, can you give an example or do you have a story that shows how people could actually use this concept?
John Guaspari: I’ll give you a counter-example, if you will, in some ways. I can remember someone coming into my office one day. This was during the portion of my career where I was an employee as opposed to a consultant. Coming into my office one day all flustered. He showed me an email that he had just gotten from our boss. All the email said was, “Not what I was looking for.” This guy was all spun up, and you could see he was upset. He was going around asking people what we thought the boss might have meant and considering opinions, and then went back and did some rework, and so on and so forth.
I just went and talked to the boss because I had a better working relationship with him than the other guy did. I said, “You just sent this thing out, ‘Not what I was looking for.’ This six word message back to him. You’ve got him going off in seven different directions. You’ve got him getting other people involved to help him try and read the tea leaves of your message.” Our mutual boss said, “Oh, no. I was in a hurry, so I didn’t have enough time to really put my thoughts down.” I said, “Well, as a result of you not taking an extra thirty seconds, you’ve now got this guy spun up for an whole afternoon.”
Pam Harper: What would have been better? What should he have said to have it be due respect?
John Guaspari: The due respect might have simply been to say “this isn’t quite what I was looking for. Let’s get together later today and talk about this, or tomorrow,” or whenever it is − or maybe not send it at all until he did have time to consider the fact that he might get this guy spun up. It’s a simple homely example, but you start adding those things up over the course of the day and you could see how they could impact the business effectiveness.
Scott Harper: So lack of respect, among other things, increases uncertainty, which always deceases productivity and trust. What about trust? We say trust is really at the root of almost everything that gets done in a company.
John Guaspari: The definition of trust I like to offer is simply “confident expectation.” Trust is a function of expectation. If there’s somebody that you’ve never met, you don’t know, you don’t know anything about him or her, you have nothing to base any judgments on. You have no way to have expectations beyond just the expectations you might have around is this person a reasonably competent member of civil society.
It’s the function of past experience. It’s a function of what you might have heard from other people, your reputation preceding you. If I worked with you through the years and I know that every time you say to me, “John, I will have that deliverable to you by 2:00 on Tuesday,” and every single time you say that it shows up at 2:00 on Tuesday, I have a high degree of trust in you. Again, think of how that rebounds to the benefit of the business. That means the next time you say you’re going to have something to me by such and such a time, I can eliminate that from my worry list because I know you’ll deliver.
Pam Harper: It’s a predictability thing?
John Guaspari: Yeah.
Pam Harper: I can predict that you are going to do what you say you will do, right?
John Guaspari: In addition, that’s what trust is.
Pam Harper: Yes. I may not trust other things about you, but I can trust that you’re going to do what you’re going to do.
John Guaspari: Right. Within a given context, I can trust that when you say you’re going to deliver X, you’ll deliver X. Whether or not that means I’d want to go backpacking with you for two weeks in the Andes, that may be a whole different …
Pam Harper: Maybe not. I know we have time for one more term − empowerment. You also have views about empowerment, right?
John Guaspari: Yeah. To me, the definition of empowerment is “a feeling of safety when exercising judgment on the job.” There are times when we’re doing work where it’s very straightforward − there are no choices to be made. We don’t need to be empowered to do that. We just do A, then B, then C, then D, as I mentioned earlier.
Occasionally, we’ll come up to a point where everything isn’t spelled out. I’m now going to have to make a judgment. On the assumption that I’m going to give this all of my best effort, that in fact I’m going to be respectful of the responsibility that I have, I’m going to give due consideration to this − If I make a choice, am I going to get second guessed? Am I going to get cut off at the knees after the fact? How safe do I feel? That’s what my definition of empowerment is.
I think what’s important about all of these things is that they’re all defined in terms of a feeling. A feeling of safety is empowerment; Trust is confident expectation; Engagement is the extent to which somebody is emotionally invested. They are intangibles. I think it’s important to simply accept that fact and recognize that fact rather than to try and dance around it by implying something that it isn’t.
Pam Harper: It sounds like essentially the more that we can make some of these intangibles as concrete as we can, the greater the chances of engaging people; of people feeling engaged, I should say.
John Guaspari: Yeah, because what we’re going to do is match the reality of the situation. Since these things are intangible, let’s not pretend. Let’s say to people this isn’t something that’s quite as clearly spelled out in black and white, but for so long as we all have the same sense of what these things are and how we’re working toward them, I think we’ll all be better off.
Pam Harper: That sounds great. We’re going to take another quick break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with writer and speaker John Guaspari about immediately useful ideas for increasing employee engagement in your company. Stay with us…
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments Scott and I have been talking with writer and speaker John Guaspari about employee engagement and how to get past the myths to increase real engagement in your company. John, can you tell us again how people can find out more about you and your books?
John Guaspari: They can find out about the books at amazon.com, or alternatively they can go to my website, which is my name, all one word − www.johnguaspari.com.
Pam Harper: Okay. Sounds great. Let’s talk now about immediately actionable advice that you could give CEOs who want to create an environment of true engagement among their employees. We’ll take pieces of advice one at a time. What’s the first one?
John Guaspari: All of these three pieces of advice are all going to be within the category of ways of thinking about engagement, because that’s really what my book is about and where I think most of the progress can be made. Number one is make sure that the definition that you’re using when the time comes to do something about engagement is the definition that the research used − which is the degree that people are emotionally and psychologically invested in the work, and not the more mechanical definition, which has to do with mechanical connection or interaction. The interaction / connection approach might seem as though it’s a fruitful way to go, but it’ll head you down the wrong path.
Pam Harper: Okay. Tell us the second piece of advice.
John Guaspari: The second one is know where to look for engagement. The locus of engagement is in the heads and the hearts of other people. It’s not in the column of action items on your project plan spreadsheet. The things you do are things that may facilitate engagement, but they aren’t engagement itself. Engagement resides in the heads and hearts of other people, so make sure that’s where you’re looking for it and where you’re measuring it.
Scott Harper: We obviously can’t look into people’s heads and hearts, but what Pam and I have done for many, many years is we look at what people do. That always is informed by how they feel and what they think.
John Guaspari: Sure. As individuals, each of us can tell when we’re more engaged in work and we can also see the signs in other people. You can just read it in their enthusiasm levels and the degree to which they’re truly functioning as a high performing team. It has to do with being functional as opposed to dysfunctional. Again, the engagement itself is what’s driving the other person, as opposed to what might appear to be the mechanical steps we’re taking. That’s exactly consistent to what you said, Scott.
Pam Harper: That’s great. What about that third piece of advice?
John Guaspari: This might sound like it contradicts everything we’ve said over the past thirty minutes or so, but engagement is really important, so stop trying to “do” engagement. By that I mean engagement is an outcome; it’s the result of having done other things well. If you try and do engagement directly, you’re apt to fall into some of these traps that we’ve been discussing.
Rather than “doing” engagement, pay attention to the degree of respect that you’re infusing with other people. Where the leverage is for you as an individual is to infuse respect throughout all of your dealings with people all day, every day. If you infuse respect at one end, engagement will be what comes out at the other end.
Pam Harper: Are you saying then that you should do away with programs for engagement?
John Guaspari: I’d be really leery about saying, “We’re now going to have an engagement program.” We’ve all gone through that − “the program of the month” − those sorts of things. One of the things that I sometimes say to clients who say” I really want to do this,” I say, “All right, go ahead and do it, but give yourself a budget of zero dollars.” That means you’re actually going to have to spend the time − you’re actually going to have to stop and think about how what you’re doing is affecting others. You can’t just throw money at it and say, “We’ll have an all hands meeting with Swedish meatballs and wine and beer and I’ve done engagement.” That’s the cheap and easy way out, and it doesn’t work.
Scott Harper: So it’s not a program, it’s a way of life?
John Guaspari: Yeah. You hear it said about communication sometimes − that you’re never not communicating. I think you can say a similar thing about this. You’re never not affecting people’s degree of engagement. Whether it’s moving the needle in the right direction or the wrong direction is a separate matter, but everything you do is going to have an impact. It’s going to go into the stew that ultimately results in the degree of engagement that they have.
Pam Harper: Engagement really is something that is not extra. It is just part of the way that the company functions.
John, this has been so helpful. Can you share any final thoughts on the single biggest thing that CEOs and other executives can do to weave employee engagement into the everyday fabric of their company?
John Guaspari: Yeah. I kind of alluded to it a couple of minutes ago. Really I’m a big believer that… We talked about several intangibles − empowerment, trust, engagement. I think of all of these, the one over which each of us has complete control all day, every day, is the extent to which we are being respectful to our coworkers. It doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t require training. It doesn’t require slogans. It doesn’t require permission, which is important.
The whole notion of respect is a two-way street. I’m not say that for people lower down in the hierarchical chain that they get to sit back with their arms crossed and look up at their bosses and say, “Respect me.” It works both ways. Respect is giving due consideration to the other person, wherever you sit on the organizational chart. I think that’s the one thing that can have the most leverage in any organization to achieving higher levels of engagement. Focus on infusing respect all day, every day, and you’ll see your engagement results go up.
Pam Harper: Good thoughts. John, thank you so much for being our guest today on Growth Igniters Radio.
John Guaspari: Thank you very much for the opportunity. I enjoyed it.
Scott Harper: Okay. And thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes or open a conversation with us, go to www.growthignitersradio.com and select Episode 29.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper …
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: … wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team.
Scott Harper: What are we doing that builds employee engagement in our company? What more could we do? What should we stop doing?